Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pastor Appreciation

I have an interesting history with priests and pastors. My earliest memory of interacting with clergy members dates back to when I was about three years old. I used to tag along with my mom to Bible studies and craft circles. One of her groups used to have little prayer services, and the priest would invite me to help him ring the bell. He also helped me put out the candles after the service with a little child-sized candle snuffer. I didn't understand a lot of what was going on in the service, but I loved being able to participate. The next minister I remember was a cheerful man we all called "Father Pete" who used to give me a hug every Sunday on my way out of church. I was eight or nine years old, and I loved his warm smile.

My relationships with clergy members got a little more complex as I grew older. I spent years with a couple of priests that I respected only to be disappointed when they drifted away towards questionable theology and developed a tendency to target parishioners who didn't agree with them. When I was in middle school my family even had to leave a church because we got a new priest who was downright rude to us (and to plenty of other people, too). Later in college I attended a service in a local church during which the priest delivered a highly politicized sermon that made me so angry that I gave up on trying to go to church for several months afterward. Then I started dating a man from a different denomination and learned what it felt like to have pastors tell me they didn't want to serve me communion.

For a while I treated the clergy with suspicion. I supposed that they were all well-intentioned, but it seemed like they thought they were a little smarter and a little better than the rest of us. I worried that they would pass judgment on me if I got too close. Finally I found my way to a wonderful church with three excellent pastors who gently erased that stereotype and taught me how to trust clergy members again. Throughout my years at this church I have watched the ways that these pastors shepherd our congregation and the important contributions they make to our community, and I have new admiration for how noble the calling to the clergy can be.

I know that my pastors aren't perfect. They're people, just like me. But I can also see how devoted they are to sharing God's love and to meeting the needs around them, and I have so much respect for them because of that. They work long hours and willingly take on burdens, and their efforts make a huge difference. I personally benefit enormously from every sermon, every Bible study session, every conversation, and even every chance encounter that I share with these special people. I used to think that I didn't need a pastor to guide me in my spiritual journey, but now I really understand what a difference it makes to have such kind, wise, and devoted people to help me along the way. Even though there are minor irritations and disagreements in these relationships, the problems are far outweighed by the love and mutual respect.

I really value my relationships with my pastors, so I don't view these people as 'service providers'. We have a two-way connection that requires me to invest in them even as I enjoy the benefits of their commitment to me. I endeavor to be a blessing to my pastors because they have blessed my life so richly. I look for ways to pitch in because I know how busy they are working on behalf of so many people. I am ready to forgive them when there are bumps in the road because I love them. I am so glad that God has taught me to appreciate the difference caring pastors can make in my life. They have taught me important lessons about patience, generosity, gentleness, and humility, and I want to honor them by applying those lessons to my life.

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